Is it a good idea to put aside my main work, while learning new lessons?

14 Jan


I’ve heard — and read — that the only way to learn to write a novel, is to write a novel. Appears this, my first attempt at writing a novel, is going to arrive in a series of fits and starts. I’m fine with that.

While studying newly learned concepts, and to help me resist the temptation of reworking the beginning chapters of my first draft to apply new lessons, I’ve resurrected a flash fiction piece I wrote last year.

Flash fiction uses all elements of fiction, but in a very brief form, and I’m finding it to be a valuable writing tool.  Working within the well defined word limits of this genre forces me to be economical in word usage and to examine each scene to bring out its strengths. I find it is intensive training!

I’ve been writing fiction now for less than a year, but when I put this particular piece aside a few months back, I thought it was pretty darn good.  I had put it through the critique process twice, and got a lot of valuable suggestions that I gave my best to incorporate. But… it is still rough and has the obvious marks of novice writer all through it. Even I can see that.

I’m now in my fourth revision of it, in as many days. I have restructured, cut words, worked with my characters on developing their own voice, incorporated physical senses into scenes, and still have a long way to go. I’m finding the real treasure of applying lessons I’ve learned since putting this piece aside, is discovering some of my most recent epiphanies are only half baked. Putting words on paper (or on screen) helps me understand the theories better, and I keep playing with them as I apply specific lessons. Working with this piece is like kneading bread dough or beating cake batter. That’s where the magic happens.

When I get to the point I think it’s pretty good (hahaha), I’ll put it through critique again. I know the value of having other people read my story —  and not close family and friends who think my writing is really, really, really great.  That’s when I will know if it works, and how well I’ve done —  this time.  I just might make this a frequent practice to resurrect early work!

I am itching to get back to my novel, but I know I have profited greatly by putting it aside. I’ve written a lot of notes on characters, scenes, and redesigned the plot outline for it during this past week. Taking a break re-energized me and helped me sharpen tools.

All of my learning has been “independent study,” and I’ve no idea if my approach is typical or common. But as with most things in life, undoubtedly I’ll be sensitized to seeing approaches others use from now on, and see more clearly what I had previously not understood or only glossed over. There are so many wonderful layers to this process, it is work but also a joy learning to write.


Here’s the summary of this lesson learned, and I am adding it to my page: Lessons I’m Learning… on my journey to becoming an author.


#7  It’s not only okay, it’s a good idea to put aside my novel while I’m learning a new concept. But only if I keep writing during that time. Lessons must be applied as I learn about them. Writing flash fiction, short stories, or just writing ideas and notes for my main project, not only helps me absorb and better understand ideas I am learning, but also builds excitement for getting back to my novel.

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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in Writing the Book


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